Shortly after noon, I went into Arlyn's bedroom to get a few things to take with me. I was preparing to drive about three miles out into the country, to Woodhaven Road.
I stood and gazed around her room for a few minutes; it was full of Arlyn, but it seemed so empty.
I picked up a folder with some of the poems she had written. Her words. Her thoughts. Her feelings.
I held it under my arm securely while I searched for something else. A Cabbage Patch doll, the dress she was christened in, a blue ribbon she had won for baking a sponge cake when she was ten years old. They were all things that meant something to Arlyn, but I left them alone.
In moving my hands across the top of her dresser, I knocked over a small picture frame. I stood it upright; it held a photo of Arlyn with bright red hair and a happy grin. She was three years old when I had made the Raggedy Ann costume using a mop for a wig. She had flopped around the house for days practicing a Raggedy Ann walk. I smiled at the memory and picked it up to take with me. This was all I needed.
I got into the car, checking to make sure I had not forgotten to put the lawn chair in the trunk. Then slowly, I drove three miles out to the country to a place that drew me to it with an awful, yet irresistable force. To a place on Woodhaven Road.
A few minutes later, I parked the car beside a small stream. I checked my watch; I was early. The rickety wooden bridge which crossed the stream seemed to blend in with the trees and undergrowth surrounding it. There were no other man-made structures in sight.
My eyes tried to follow several small yellow butterflies as they bobbed up and down in this otherwise still picture. I placed the lawn chair on the side of the narrow dirt road. a few feet from the two wooden crosses that announced to the world that this was a place where a death had occurred.
I held on to the folder of writings and the small framed photo as I sat heavily down in the chair. I suddenly realized that I had placed the chair on the exact spot where my daughter's body had fallen when her life stopped. I briefly stiffened and thought about moving, but then, I didn't. A morbid need to connect wtih her held me there.
I opened the folder and picked up a sheet of paper with Arlyn's handwriting on it. I read:
"The scent of death
And I am overwhelmed
By it's beauty."
I shook my head; I could not understand.
It was terribly hot, much like it was the day Arlyn died. I sat quiety wondering what she had thought during those final moments, wondering if she has been afraid, wondering.
I looked down and continued to read. I felt a dull pain in my chest. Her hands had written the words I was staring at, but her heart had felt them.
After a while, I looked up and stared at the yellow butterflies blankly. Then, I glanced at my watch and saw that it was almost - that time. If Arlyn's spirit was to come, it would be now.
So I began to talk. At first, I spoke casually. "How are you doing, Arlyn? What's it like up there? Are you with Mammaw and Grandpap and Lori? Have you played your guitar for them?"
I waited, but Arlyn did not reply.
I felt myself growing more anxious, so I began to ask harder questions, pausing after each to listen for a reply.
"Arlyn, do you miss us? When you pulled the trigger, did you have any idea of how badly your death would hurt your dad and me? Did you know how much I loved you?"
Then, as a post-script, I asked her if she'd seen her young cousin, Adam, who was killed the day before, and I asked her to take Adam under her wings.
Again, I closed my eyes and waited. And waited.
Nothing happened. I felt so sad.
Finally, I decided I had to try one more time to persuade Arlyn to reply. I would ask for a sign that she was here. She'd been gone four years; I had waited long enough.
I opened my eyes and looked around. As I searched for a sign, I realized I would not know a sign if I saw one. What does a sign look like? Is it a blinking light? A crash of thunder? The image of a face in the clouds? What would I look for?
Then, I spotted two yellow butterflies in the woods behind the crosses. This type of butterfly is common in south Georgia at this time of year. It seems that they only come in yellow. I glanced down at the Raggedy Ann photo that was smiling up with me. The red mop wig almost looked like wings surrounding her face.
I smiled to myself then, and I spoke loudly into the trees. I said, "Arlyn, if you hear me, I need a sign! Will you send me a sign to let me know you're okay? Will you send me a red butterfly if you know how much I love you and how badly I miss you? A red butterfly, Arlyn. Please."
By then, the tears spilling down my cheeks were making their own small stream. I closed my eyes. I felt the stillness, until a cool breeze brushed past. I shivered.
When I opened my eyes again, I saw the two crosses still standing in front of me. The only thing different was that the yellow butterflies in the woods behind them had left.
I signed. I was so disappointed that I had just passed another milestone date without a sign from Arlyn. I felt myself sinking.
I was a reluctant traveler on this road. Sometimes, it seemed too hard to go on. Sometimes, I wanted to give up and join her. I missed her so much.
A moment or so later, I caught a red flicker in the corner of my eye to the right, over the stream. I turned and saw a large red butterfly come up from under the bridge. Slowly, it flew towards me, bobbing up and down as if it were on a sea of gently rippling water.
As the butterfly flew closer, I held my breath. The trees behind it faded out, creating a hazy background, accenting the brightness of its red wings.
To my amazement, it fluttered close to me. Then, it flew all the way around the two crosses that bore Arlyn's name. Not once but twice. Twice, the red butterfly encircled those crosses while I sat there spellbound, so close I could have touched it.
It hovered a moment, and then it swooped through the air, heading off into the woods behind the crosses and out of sight.
Was it a coincidence that the red butterfly just happened to fly by as I was hoping for a sign from Arlyn? Was it really a sign from her? If it was a sign, what did it mean?
I do not know if it was a coincidence or not; I have visited the place on Woodhaven Road many times in the past four years. The only butterflies I remember seeing there before were yellow.
A sign is something that may suggest the presence of someone who is missing. To me, that butterfly was a sign from Arlyn, because there is no logical explanation for its appearance otherwise. So, what does it mean?
I believe it was a sign that the spirit lives on after death, and that the soul of my precious Arlyn is at peace. I believe the red butterfly was Arlyn's way of letting me know that she knows the depth of my love for her, and the pain of my sadness. I also believe that she sent me this sign so I would know that she is with me always.
This knowledge does not erase the fact I miss her, but it does help me move into the future. I feel an inner calmness that was missing before. I believe I have a mission to accomplish while I am here, so I now understand that the spirit of my child will provide the wings to lift me up.
Most important, though, the red butterfly proved to me that love is eternal. It does not die when the body dies. Hearts and souls that are joined on earth are united forever.
Karyl Chastain Beal, Mother of Arlyn
Masters in Education
Support group facilitator
Mission: Suicide awareness, support and education (and prevention)
Writings published in Chicken Soup for the Unsinkable Soul, Seventeen magazine, various other magazines and newspapers
Member of AFSP Survivors Counsel & SPAN
Owner of Suicide Memorial Wall, Suicide Discussion Board and Suicide Reference Library